On a Saturday afternoon in the hills of Fayetteville, Mississippi State University’s quarterback Tommy Stevens stepped back onto the field and took control from the first drive of the game as MSU beat the University of Arkansas 54-24.
“The month of October was pretty tough on us,” Stevens said. “Glad we could get back on track here in November."
Head coach Joe Moorhead said there were concerns about Shrader’s general health and that factored into the decision to start Stevens, a graduate transfer quarterback from Indianapolis, Indiana, on the road in Fayetteville. It was a decision that was made Thursday, and Stevens stepped up and delivered with 172 yards passing for two touchdowns, completing 12/18 passes.
“I’ve always prided myself in being a team-first guy,” Stevens said. “Today was my turn again and I tried to make the best of my opportunities.”
MSU had a shaky start to the first possession as the offense was called for a false start penalty. However, the Bulldogs settled down as MSU took control on the ground as Kylin Hill got to the outside and took off racing for 61 yards before being tackled out of bounds at the 4.
Two plays later, Stevens and Hill gave MSU a touchdown on its opening drive. Stevens said the run game was established early by the offensive line. Moorhead said to start that well early in the game was important.
“It is a lot easier when you aren’t digging yourself out of a hole,” Moorhead said. “It was good to jump out fast on both sides of the ball.”
That opening drive was followed by a defensive stop, forcing a punt. Then, Stevens led a second scoring drive as Osirus Mitchell leaped into the air and caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Stevens over the head of the defender.
After giving up a 52-yard touchdown run to Arkansas, the Bulldogs responded with a drive of their own down the field scoring a touchdown. The drive marked a momentous point in the game as the Dawgs answered to go up 24-7.
MSU regained momentum as Hill, a senior from Columbus, ran the ball for two more touchdowns for the Bulldogs. By the end of the game, Hill carried the ball 21 times, rushing for 234 yards scoring three touchdowns.
Leading the team through both the air and ground was Stevens, who had dealt with injury concerns up until the Arkansas game. Moorhead said the last two weeks Stevens was at his healthiest, so when Stevens got the chance to start he seized it and ran with it.
“I view Tommy like a son,” Moorhead said. “To his credit, he didn’t come in and pout, didn’t complain, didn’t ask why. He kept his head down and kept working. When he got his opportunity, it is always nice to see one of the good guys get rewarded and Tommy Stevens is one of the good guys in college football.”
A defensive touchdown also showed how much stronger MSU is when the team does not have players sitting out due to suspension. One of those players is Marcus Murphy, a senior safety from West Point, who was suspended for violation of team rules along with six other players at the beginning of the season.
Murphy watched the quarterback’s eyes and jumped the comeback route by the slot receiver for Arkansas, running 32 yards for the score to put the Dawgs up 38-10 right before halftime.
Murphy and Willie Gay, a sophomore linebacker from Starkville who was suspended for violation of team rules at the start of the season too, made their defensive presence known combining for 13 total tackles. Moorhead said it helped the team. The team also got some players back from injury.
“On Monday when we went through the injury report we almost needed two pages for the first time,” Moorhead said. “The guys healed up and did a great job with their training stuff. It was a pleasant surprise to have as many back as we did.”
The win over Arkansas snapped a four-game losing streak and MSU exorcised the road demons that haunted the team in three of those four games. Moorhead said it is a relief to get into the win column again.
“We try to put the losses behind you and move ahead to the next game,” Moorhead said. “Happy that our kids have been able to maintain that singleness of focus, not carry some of those loses into the next week.”
With the season coming to an end and MSU needing to win two of the last three games to become bowl eligible, Cameron Dantzler, a junior from Hammond, Louisiana, said Moorhead told the team how important it was to finish on a strong note.
“Coach always says ‘Make them remember November,’ You’ve got to finish strong,” Dantzler said. “It isn’t how you start but how you finish. If we keep that in mind and keep on rolling then we stand a chance.”